I began piano lessons at the age of 5 in Salt Lake City, my home town, continuing with my studies in Walnut Creek, California, from the ages of 7 to 9. When I was 10, I began study of piano and music theory at the Blanche-Dingley-Matthews School of Music in Denver, Colorado. At 13, I started piano studies with Marta Teodono, a student of Paderewski, in Denver. My piano studies from the age of 10 to the age of 15 included Saturday theory lessons. People say they hate music theory, but I adored it. What great fun I had puzzling through a four-part realization of a Bach chorale, or sketching arcs to represent the form of a Mozart sonata, or nailing down the chord progression of a Chopin etude. So began my love of music theory.
My debut as a theater pit pianist was as an eighth grader for a Littleton, Colorado, high school production of The Boy Friend. What a challenge it was to listen for the warning cues from the actors, to find and keep singable and danceable tempos, to figure out what to do when lyrics got botched or forgotten. What a rush! So began my love of musical direction and accompaniment.
I moved to the greater Boston area as a high school sophomore, and auditioned for the school musical Oklahoma, never dreaming that as a sophomore (new to the school to boot) I would be cast as the romantic lead, "Laurey." ( Heck! I didn't know I could sing!) And here I was, on stage, pretending to be somebody else, living another life, being given the opportunity and encouragement to live legitimately in a fantasy world! Could anything be more fun? So began my love of theater.
I attended the University of Utah, where I studied voice with noted baritone Phillip Frohnmeyer. Phil opened the world of opera and art song to me, a universe I would never have seen without his tutelage. Here was an unending wealth of singable literature, thousands upon thousands of pieces for voice, and not just Italian opera and art songs: Elizabethan lute songs, Spanish canciones, classic German lieder, American folksongs, contemporary theater pieces. I continue to mine this immense body of literature with insatiable hunger. And so began my love of singing.
I declared a major in music theory. I was greatly influenced by a U of U faculty member who encouraged me to begin composing. I began to write music, and discovered it was even more fun adding to the body of musical literature than it was discovering it. So began my love of composition. In fact, during my undergraduate days, the University created a new undergraduate degree in Theory/Composition, and I was the among the first class of students ever awarded that degree. I finished studies for my Bachelor of Music in 1977.
After graduating, I accepted an opportunity to train as a Montessori teacher and teach at a Montessori school for a year. During that year, I was contacted by a U of U faculty member who encouraged me to apply for the University Fellowship in Composition and begin a graduate program in composition. I applied for and was awarded the fellowship in 1979, and spent the next year composing a five-movement ballet, Synthesis. I also was awarded a Teaching Assistantship in music theory, and found out I adored being in front of a classroom. What a kick it was to share my love of puzzling through the chord progressions and modes, and watch my students catch my enthusiasm for the subject. So began my love of teaching.
I studied composition with Ramiro Cortes, Bruce Reich, and Vladimir Ussachevsky (who replicated his famed Electronic Music Laboratory at Princeton for the University of Utah, the lab in which I composed some truly dreadful electronic music). My master's thesis was a five-movement string quartet, entitled "Izarrak." I finished my graduate studies in 1982 and moved to Houston, Texas, where I resided for the next five years, doing post-graduate composition study with opera composer Carlisle Floyd.
My favorite kind of composition is music for voice, and I have written numerous choral works and songs. While I lived in Houston (1982-1987) I was Composer-in-Residence for the Episcopal Church of the Epiphany, whose Chancel Choir, under the direction of the remarkable singer/organist/musician Wendy Wentland, premiered many of my works. While at Epiphany, I also penned a number of works for five-octave handbell choir, including a clever and challenging arrangement of "I Saw Three Ships," which was published by Choristers' Guild.
In 1993, I received a Washington State Artist's Trust Grant, jointly with composer Charles Kenfield. Mr. Kenfield had written incidental music for synthesizer for a theatrical production of Antigone, and I assisted Mr. Kenfield in unifying his several small pieces of music into a whole work, which I then orchestrated. The work, entitled Antigone Symphony, was premiered by the Eastern Washington University Symphony in November of 1999.
In 1994, I became affiliated with the Spokane (Washington) Area Children's Chorus, for whom I wrote two original works. One, The Bethlehem Pastorale, is recorded on their premier CD, and is said by many purchasers of the CD to be the reason for their purchase. An upbeat novelty setting of my own Pecos Bill was premiered by the chorus in 1997, and is still a favorite of the choir.
I was commissioned in 1994 by soprano Doni Bracht (now Foxworth) of Houston, Texas, to write a Magnificat for her. The piece, which uses a chant melody as organ cantus firmus, contains cluster harmonies by a treble choir (singing in Latin) as underpinning for a soaring soprano solo (singing in English). It is quite lovely.
I also wrote or arranged much music for the North Idaho College choral and instrumental performing ensembles. In my seven years as the Director of Choirs at NIC, I created many solo instrument parts to accompany my choirs, and created numerous chamber ensemble accompaniments, including an all-brass accompaniment to Ralph Vaughan Williams A Choral Flourish. In 2002, I was commissioned by NIC to compose an instrumental fanfare. In December of that year, the NIC Symphonic Wind Ensemble premiered my all-brass homage to Zoltan Kodaly, All Men Draw Near.
In 2001, I tried my hand at incidental theater music, creating the music for a production of the contemporary drama Stop Kiss. I utilized my Kurzweil Mark X keyboard and my Alesis QS8 digital keyboard in the composition of the music, and recorded it all with the help of my engineer son, Joe Varela, at his "Black Lab Studio" in Spokane, Washington. (Joe, a talented drummer, added the extremely tasty percussive elements.) The music was a great success in the production. In the following year, 2002, I composed music for a production of Wit, and also for a collegiate production of The Tempest. I also created the background music to a 10-minute online movie called "The Power," a Star Wars knockoff by Maryland-based filmmaker Eric Grove. I believe you can still see the movie (and hear my score) at www.ThePower.com.
I am proudest of my most recent achievement in incidental theater score composition: the music and background sound design for a 2003 Spokane Civic Theatre production of The Laramie Project. The score was also used in productions at Washington State University in 2004, Berkeley High School in 2006, and Alameda High School in 2008.
Here's a list of classical music solos I have performed publicly ...
At the Episcopal Church of the Epiphany in Houston, Texas:
• Mozart Requiem (alto soloist)
• Fauré Requiem ("Pié Jesu" soloist)
• Monteverdi Gloria (soprano soloist)
• Duruflé Requiem ("Pié Jesu" soloist)
• Schütz Passion (soprano soloist)
• Britten A Ceremony of Carols (soprano soloist)
At North Idaho College, in Coeur d'Alène, Idaho:
• Samuel Barber's Dover Beach with the Micah Bay String Quartet
• "He shall feed his flock" (alto and soprano solos) from Handel's Messiah (with the North Idaho Symphony)
• "Non so più cosa son" from Mozart's Le Nozze di Figaro
• "L'amour est un oiseau rebelle" (The Habañera) from Bizet's Carmen
• "Vissi d'arte" from Puccini's Tosca
(these last three with the North Idaho College Symphonic Wind Ensemble)
I got my first taste of classroom teaching as a Montessori teacher in the 1977-78 school year. I loved working with Little Folks, and, even though I held this job for only one year, I've utilized my Montessori training in many other teaching contexts since then.
My second classroom assignment was as a teaching assistant in Music Theory, Sight Singing and Ear Training at the University of Utah, while pursuing my master's degree from 1980-82. I had this position for two years, and in that time discovered that teachers are truly effective when they are passionate about the subject they're teaching. Since I love music theory, sight singing and ear training (no kidding!) I found out that I loved to teach, and that my students loved to learn.
I didn't discover my most gratifying and influential teaching position until I opened a private music studio in 1993 and started working one-on-one with students. This was when I began to feel I could really make a difference in people's lives. Every student brought his or her unique differences to my workplace: age, interest, musical taste, levels of confidence and skill. Every student had his or her own repertoire, goals, and agenda. My workdays became varied, challenging, and, ultimately, rewarding.
The unseen benefit of being a music teacher is that every once in a while a student will do something so unexpectedly thrilling, lovely, or sincere, that I feel goosebumps, or tears well into my eyes. And it's not just my really good students, either. It could be ANY ONE of them. Each time I open the door to greet my next student, I am thinking "Is this the one? Am I going to get goosebumps sometime in the next hour?" And when it happens, I love to turn from the piano, look at my student with tears in my eyes or a lump in my throat and say, "And I get paid to do this!" Being a music teacher, as fraught as it is with the uncertainties of being self-employed, is, I think, one of the most rewarding careers a person can have.
I first signed on to the Spokane Area Children's Chorus in 1994, as an accompanist for its Junior Choir (ages 7-8). Within a year I had become the conductor of the Junior Choir and one section of the Concert (Intermediate) Choir. I was, soon after, the recipient of a Leuthold Foundation Grant (awarded to the SACC) to create a three-level theory program for the organization, a program which I devised and then taught to all three levels of the choirs.
I left the SACC after three years to become the Director of the North Idaho College Concert Choir and Madrigal Singers. This was one of the most rewarding periods in my musical career; the choirs, comprised of veteran adult community members, college aged students, and advanced placement high school students, offered a great many challenges with its ever-changing personnel. During my years at NIC, (1997-2003), I created two more choirs, the Select Women's Ensemble and the Cantores Men's Ensemble. I took the Concert Choir to Carnegie Hall in the summer of 2001, where we sang Schubert's Mass in G.
I conducted the NIC Choir in masterworks, contemporary choral music, and showchoir pieces, joined by the NIC Symphony Orchestra at the annual Holiday Concert. In my last concert with NIC, I conducted contemporary composer Gerard Mathes' extremely challenging "Innocents: A Mass for Our Time" with full orchestra, organ, large and small choirs, and vocal soloists.
Adjudicator. One of my most enjoyable activities in recent years has been the yearly adjudication of young singers in regional music festivals. My passionate desire to help every singer (child or adult, strong or weak, skilled or not) experience the privilege and joy of singing, has given me a reputation as one of the most supportive and memorable "judges" around. I am perennially sought by regional festival organizers, at both the high school and junior high school level, and have come to be thought of as credible and compassionate in my dealings with young (often anxious) vocalists. In the years since I have been adjudicating, I have received heartening acknowledgment from many grateful vocalists, parents, and musical colleagues for my encouragement and sensitivity in what is typically a tense and competitive situation.
Chamber Music Mentor. In 2000, I was approached by Aida Ribeiro, wife of Spokane (Washington) Symphony conductor Fabio Mecchetti, to be the Theory Advisor to the fledgling Spokane Junior Chamber Artists. The JCA sought out young instrumental and vocal musicians interested in expanding their performance skills by studying chamber music under the mentorship of Spokane Symphony musicians. I designed and taught a year's curriculum of once-monthly "enrichment classes" for these advanced players, in which various musical topics were presented. I introduced the students to form and analysis, the ancient modes, mediant relationships in tonal harmony, enharmonic spellings, solfège, movable clefs and score reading. In that first year and in subsequent years, I acted as coach to all ensembles having a vocalist, in the study and performance of vocal chamber music by Bach, Handel, Dowland, Donizetti, Vaughan Williams, and Britten.
Advisor to the Stars. Perhaps the most serendipitous event of my coaching career began with a phone call I received from Patty Duke (yes, the real Patty Duke). Ms. Duke had been tapped to audition for the role of "Aunt Eller" in the Broadway revival of Oklahoma! Since she'd never been in a musical, she needed to find out if she could sing, and if she could sing "Aunt Eller." She called her friends in the Inland Northwest (where she lives), and they put her in touch with me.
What I thought was going to be a one-shot, luck-of-the-draw occurrence turned into a long professional affiliation and close friendship. Ms. Duke and I worked for several weeks in 2001 preparing music for her audition for Trevor Nunn later in the year. I thought I'd seen the last of Ms. Duke, when, in the spring of 2002, she was asked to recreate the role of "Phyllis" in a Reprise Production of Steven Sondheim's Follies to be staged in Los Angeles that summer. So she and I went back to work preparing her for yet another part (and, by far, a much more daunting role than "Aunt Eller"). She performed in Follies, and then stepped into the role of "Aunt Eller" on Broadway in the fall of 2002, performing until the show closed in 2003. In the fall of 2003, Ms. Duke was asked to play the legendary "Momma Rose" as a fund-raising season-opening production of Gypsy for Spokane Civic Theatre, a nationally-recognized community theater in eastern Washington. She obliged the request, and sought me out a third time to help prepare for what may be considered the most formidable role in all musical theater.
In the three years I coached Patty Duke, I became aware of the fact that even the most confident and accomplished of non-singing performers can feel very anxious and vulnerable when singing. Any person who experiences anxiety, apprehension, or self-doubt when singing (or thinking about learning to sing) needs to find a coach who is supportive, affirming, and non-judgmental, as well as skilled in the teaching of technique.
Private Vocal Instructor. This is my true vocation, my bread and butter. It is in the coaching of individual students that I find my greatest satisfaction. I have been coaching singers since I was in college (in the 1970s), but I made it my full-time job in 1993, when my children were old enough for me to return to work. My students have been as young as 9 and as old as 77, though the majority of my students are high school-aged. Some of the goals I have helped my students to achieve include:
• increase high range in men and women
• open lower range for changing voices (young men)
• develop or control vibrato
• strengthen upper voice in men, head voice in women
• replace "belting" with empowered and fully supported head voice
• understand how diaphragmatic support should feel
• improve diction and understandability of lyric
• hold a pitch against another singer's loud (or off-pitch) voice
• sing harmony
• find fluid, lyric-motivated hand movements and arm gestures
• discover comfortable body stance, learn to "do nothing" while singing
• stop neck and jaw thrust
• conquer stage/performance fright
• learn to sight read
• establish and add to a cabaret repertoire
• prepare theatrical auditions well-suited to the singer and the role sought
• prepare contest and festival solo/ensemble pieces
• prepare operatic and musical theater college auditions
• prepare URTA (University/Resident Theatre Association) auditions
• hone and fine tune performance roles
In May of 2004, I was honored as a Recognized Teacher in the Arts by the National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts. If you'd like to find out what my students think of me as a coach, click on the Testimonials link. Or check out my great Yelp reviews.
Musical Theater Director
My first experience in musical theater was as the pianist for The Boy Friend in the summer of 1967. I didn't return to the "pit," though, until I was asked to be assistant director/principals coach/rehearsal pianist for a production of West Side Story at Spokane Civic Theatre in 1993. Here below is my musical theater director resume:
A Chorus Line — Berkeley High School
Music Director, pianist
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum — Spokane Falls Community College
Music Director, pianist (incorporated authentic silent movie music for comic chase scene)
Cabaret — Coeur d'Alène Summer Theatre (with Jack Bannon and Randee Heller)
Music Director, Conductor
Sound of Music — Spokane Children's Theatre
Music Director, pianist
How to Eat Like a Child — Spokane Falls Community College
Music Director, pianist
Working — Spokane Falls Community College
Music Director, pianist
The Threepenny Opera — North Idaho College
Music Director, pianist
1776 — Spokane Civic Theatre (Spokane Critics' Circle Award for Best Musical of the 1998-99 Season)
Music Director, rehearsal pianist, conductor
Paint Your Wagon — Coeur d'Alène Summer Theatre
Music Director, Conductor
Annie Get Your Gun — Coeur d'Alène Summer Theatre
Music Director, Conductor
Falsettos — Spokane Civic Theatre
Music Director, pianist
The Robber Bridegroom — Spokane Civic Theatre
Music Director, rehearsal pianist (hired and prepared bluegrass band for run of show)
The Inside Story — Gonzaga University
Music Director, pianist (original work by visiting British Professor of Drama Dr. Kenneth Pickering)
The Best Christmas Pageant Ever — Spokane Civic Theatre
Incorporated music into non-musical Christmas play, wrote original rap tune, "Revenge at Bethlehem," for the show.
Anything Goes! — Spokane Civic Theatre
Arranged and orchestrated four additional numbers for 8-piece combo.
West Side Story — Spokane Civic Theatre
Assistant Music Director, Principals Vocal Coach, rehearsal/performance pianist
"Mary Cain" (understudy) in How to Write a New Book for the Bible — Berkeley Repertory Theater
"Sarah" in Born and Raised — Berkeley Playhouse (world premiere musical)
"Edith Frank" in The Diary of Anne Frank — Custom Made Theater, San Francisco
"Sister Aloysius" in Doubt — New Conservatory Theater, San Francisco (BATCC Nomination)
"Congresswoman Wilkins/Duchess Sophie" in Call Me Madam — 42nd Street Moon Theater, San Francisco
"Malvolio" (understudy) in Twelfth Night — California Shakespeare Theater
"Dorothy" in Act a Lady — New Conservatory Theater (Bay Area Reporter, Best Actress Award)
Ensemble in Peddling Rainbows (Yip Harburg Revue) — 42nd Street Moon Theater
"Jean" in The Shaker Chair — Shotgun Players, Berkeley (West Coast Premiere)
"Daisy Werthen" in Driving Miss Daisy — Crossroads Theater, Walnut Creek (Contra Costa Times Ten Best)
"Friar Laurence" in Romeo and Juliet — Woman's Will (Bay Area all-female Shakespeare Company)
"Mother" in Blood Wedding — Shotgun Players, Berkeley CA
"Lois" in Farm Boys — New Conservatory Theater (West Coast Premiere)
"Mother Courage" (understudy, went on twice) in Mother Courage — Berkeley Repertory Theater
"Abigal Adams" in 1776 — Willows Theater Company, Concord, CA
"Vivian Bearing" in Wit — Lafayette Town Hall Theater, Lafayette, CA (Shellie Award, Best Actress)
"Major Stone" in Happy End — Woman's Will (Oakland Tribune Ten Best)
"Baroness Elsa Schrader" in The Sound of Music — Willows Theather Company, Martinez, CA
"Thérèse Yelverton" in John Muir's Mountain Days — Willows Theather Company, Martinez, CA
"Marmee" in Little Women — Crossroads Theater, Walnut Creek
"Emma" in Over the River and Through the Woods — Spokane Civic Theatre
"Woman Three" in The Vagina Monologues — North Idaho College Foundation
"Jean Brodie" in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie — Spokane Civic Theatre Reading Stage
"Kate, Ben, Jackey" in Anton in Show Business — Spokane Interplayers Ensemble
"Meg" in Damn Yankees — Spokane Civic Theatre
"Evelyn" in Kinderstransport — Spokane Civic Theatre Reading Stage
"Vivian Bearing" in Wit — Spokane Civic Theatre (Spokane Critics' Circle Award winner for Best Play and Best Actress Performance in 2001-2002 season)
"Aunt Marguerite" in Dearly Departed — Spokane Civic Theatre
"Anne" in Take Her, She's Mine — Spokane Civic Theatre Reading Stage
"Mother" in Crazy for You — Coeur d'Alène Summer Theater
"Mrs. Antrobus" in The Skin of Our Teeth — Spokane Civic Theatre Reading Stage
"Eulalie MacKecknie Shinn" in The Music Man — Coeur d'Alène Summer Theatre
"The Angel" in Angels in America — Spokane Civic Theatre, Reading Stage
"Susan Miller" in My Left Breast — Varying venues, Spokane/Coeur d'Alène (a 75-minute, one-woman show performed as part of Breast Cancer Awareness Month)
"Gladys McGlone" in The Unsinkable Molly Brown — Coeur d'Alène Summer Theatre
"Hebe" in H.M.S. Pinafore — Coeur d'Alène Summer Theatre
"Mrs. O'Malley" in Funny Girl — Coeur d'Alène Summer Theatre
"Parthy Ann Hawks" in Showboat — Coeur d'Alène Summer Theatre
"Lilli Vanessi/Kate" in Kiss Me Kate — Spokane Civic Theatre
"Lady Grace" in Something's Afoot — Coeur d'Alène Summer Theatre
"Doris" in Damn Yankees — Coeur d'Alène Summer Theatre
"Mother Abbess" in The Sound of Music — Coeur d'Alène Summer Theatre
"Ensemble" in The Boys Next Door — Spokane Civic Theatre
"Mrs. Squires" in The Music Man — Coeur d'Alène Summer Theatre
"Fran, April, Betsy, Molly" in The Heidi Chronicles — Spokane Civic Theatre
The Mother in Amahl and the Night Visitors — Epiphany Church, Houston, Texas